They left the comforts of the city to live in the wilderness in solitude for religious reasons. These early Christian ascetics who roamed the desert of Egypt and Syria at the end of the second century were hermits. Honored by the church, they were called the desert fathers.
They lived in tombs, caves, holes, or makeshift huts. Their environment was a playground of dusts, storms and locusts, and where wild animals roam. Shovel snouted lizards abound roaming on their two feet to avoid the scorching sands.
Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270 and 271, belonged to a rich and virtuous Christian family in Coma, Egypt. He devoted himself to prayer, silence and work. After 20 years of spiritual trials from the assault of the devils, the fame of his sanctity and miracles attracted hundreds of followers.
One of his early followers is Bessarion, a Christian from Misr, Egypt, who roamed the desert, never lodging in any place.
Bessarion’s only belonging is the clothes he wore—a coarse hairy sack cloth.
He goes on “mighty fasting”—40 days without food standing in prayer for days and days. And sleeping, too, while on his feet.
Acknowledged as a wonder worker among the hermits, Bessarion was compared to Joshua, Elias or John the Baptist.
Before he founded his monastery he wandered among the hermits of Sketis under Saint Anthony the Great, the founder of Monasticism.
Bessarion was called Paul of Thebeus/Thebes or Paul, the First Hermit.
Laments Adam’s disobedience
Bessarion, according to the records of the Coptic Orthodox Church Network, goes around the desert crying while repeating this verse:
“The riches have all been stolen.
I have escaped from death,
My family has fallen from honor.”
Translated and interpreted, according to biblical history, he laments the loss that befell the human race because of Adam’s sin.
With Adam’s disobedience, sin came to the world. Called original sin, it affected the nature of man. Everyone after Adam and Eve became inclined to sin called concupiscence because the grace of original holiness was lost. The result—death made its entrance into human history, the Catechism of the Catholic Church said.
Doulas, Bessarion’s disciple, recorded stories and miracles attributed to his master. These stories were collaborated by other religious writers.
Several times, during drought, he prayed for rain and made salt water potable for drinking. And he walked on the river Nile, without getting wet.
Doulas, likewise, wrote how Bessarion healed people possessed by devils in the wilderness by praying over them while asleep.
Walking by the shores of the Red Sea, when Doulas and John, two of his disciples, become thirsty, Bessarion took water from the sea and prayed over it. Their thirst was quenched by the salty water, which become sweet.
Saint Bessarion’s feast day is February 20 in the Latin Rite. The Russian Orthodox Church honors him on June 6, while his Coptic Church Memorial is June 17.
Santiago is a former regional director of the Department of Education National Capital Region. She is currently a faculty member of Mater Redemptoris Collegium in Calauan, Laguna, and Mater Redemptoris College in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.